Terminologies to avoid
We grew up learning certain words used for people who may not look or behave like us. People with disability (in particular) have been referred to by several names in the different languages in Ghana. Most, if not all of these words describe them in a very unpleasant way.
Over the years, people with disability across the world have fought so hard for the use of some of these words to be stopped. Very offensive and dehumanising labels are often given to persons with disability in Ghana.
We seem to continue to use some of these words to perpetuate the kind of stigmatisation and discrimination people with disability face.
This article aims to identify some of these terminologies in some languages spoken in Ghana and to discourage their use.
• Deaf & dumb or deaf & mute – Several years ago, people who were deaf (or Deaf) and unable to speak were described using these words. Over a period, people considered these words as offensive and pushed for people to cease using them.
Most people prefer being referred to as deaf (or Deaf) rather than ‘deaf and dumb’. In Ghana, however, people continue to use these words to describe them despite the offensive connotation.
• Jimi jimi or buulu – These two words are Ga words that mean ‘fool’ or ‘stupid’ respectively. Why would we want to describe people with disability as fools or stupid when it is through no fault of theirs?
• Nea wanyin agya nadwene ho - This Twi phrase is literally describing a person with disability as ‘someone whose physical development has outlived his/her mental development’. This implies they are stupid or lack intelligence. Again, these words continue to show how people with disability are generally viewed in Ghana and the need to create more awareness of their place in society.
• Nsuoba – This Twi word literally means ‘water child’ and often used for children with Down syndrome. Down syndrome is a chromosomal defect where a person is born with one extra copy of the 21st chromosome. People with Down syndrome often have features that make them easily identifiable. Despite the difficulties people with Down syndrome have, they are able to make significant progress in life with support.
Early intervention goes a long way to help them achieve the most in life and have a good quality of life.
• Spirit child – In the Kassena-Nankana District in Northern Ghana, children born with physical disabilities such as hydrocephalus, cleft lip and palate are regarded as spirit children from the bush who possess evil spirits to cause misfortune and destroy the family. These children were sometimes killed to stop them from ‘destroying’ the family. There have been several interventions by non-governmental organisations and the Ghanaian government to try to stop these practices.
Each ethnic group in Ghana is likely to have a word it uses to describe people with disability in their language. Are the words offensive in your language? If they are, we can advocate for people with disability in Ghana for society to accept them as valuable too.
Each person with a disability has the same fundamental human rights as you. Every individual with a disability has his/her own abilities, potential and uniqueness. Engage with them and get to know them beyond their disability.
The writer is Speech & Language Therapist/Clinical Tutor, University of Ghana. E-mail: